expectation, seeking and knocking

We may despair at scandals we hear about in the Church.
True reform may seem impossible. Beware the tempter! Rather than succumbing
to the despair and apathy to which the tempter seeks to lead us,
let us instead embrace God’s call to share in Christ’s sonship and participate
in his work of redemption…
Transformation is possible, but only to those who trust in him.

Michael Patrick Barber
from Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know

“Mary remained with the donkey at the very entrance of the street while
Joseph sought a lodging in the nearest houses—in vain,
for Bethlehem was full of strangers, all running from place to place.
Joseph returned to Mary, saying that as no shelter was to be found there,
they would go on farther into the town. He led the donkey on by the bridle,
and the Blessed Virgin walked beside him. When they came to the beginning
of another street, Mary again stopped by the donkey,
and Joseph again went from house to house in vain seeking a lodging,
and again came sadly back. This happened several times, and the Blessed Virgin
often had long to wait.
Everywhere the houses were filled with people, everywhere he was turned away …
Joseph led the Blessed Virgin to [a] tree, and made her a comfortable seat
against its trunk with their bundles, so that she might rest while he
sought for shelter in the houses near. …
At first Mary stood upright, leaning against the tree.
Her ample white woollen dress had no girdle and hung around her in folds:
her head was covered with a white veil.
Many people passed by and looked at her, not knowing that the Redeemer
was so near to them.
She was so patient, so humble, so full of
hopeful expectation.
Ah, she had to wait a long, long time;
she sat down at last on the rug, crossing her feet under her.
She sat with her head bent and her hands crossed below her breast.
Joseph came back to her in great distress; he had found no shelter.
His friends, of whom he had spoken to the Blessed Virgin,
would hardly recognize him.
He was in tears and Mary comforted him.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich, p.185
An Excerpt From
The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary From the Visions of
Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich

pierced heart

“As the sun surpasses all the stars in luster,
so the sorrows of Mary surpass all the
tortures of the martyrs.”

St. Basil


(detail of Mary at the deposition of Christ by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden circa 1435)


“In this valley of tears, every man is born to weep, and all must suffer,
by enduring the evils that take place every day.
But how much greater would be the misery of life,
if we also knew the future evils that await us!
‘Unfortunate, indeed, would be the situation of someone who knows the future’,
says the pagan Roman philosopher Seneca; ‘he would have to suffer everything by anticipation’.
Our Lord shows us this mercy. He conceals the trials that await us so that,
whatever they may be, we may endure them only once.
But he didn’t show Mary this compassion.
God willed her to be the Queen of Sorrows, and in all things like his Son.
So she always had to see before her eyes, and continually to suffer,
all the torments that awaited her. And these were the sufferings of the passion
and death of her beloved Jesus.
For in the temple, St. Simeon, having received the divine Child in his arms,
foretold to her that her Son would be a sign for all the persecutions and oppositions of men. …
Jesus our King and his most holy mother didn’t refuse,
for love of us, to suffer such cruel pains throughout their lives.
So it’s reasonable that we, at least, should not complain if we have to suffer something.”

St. Alphonsus Liguori, p. 222
An Excerpt From
A Year with Mary

I’m still making my way slowly through the book The Divine Plan by Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando.
A book based on a seemingly oddly matched friendship and the ‘dramatic end
of the Cold War.’
The book is about the relationship between the Catholic Pope, John Paul II,
and the Protestant American President, Ronald Reagan and of their individual
journies toward that friendship that changed the course of history.

I’ve previously read many books recounting the work of this dynamic duo and the subsequent
dismantling of the USSR…books that recount the seemingly odd match Fate found in
two vastly different world stage players.
But this book’s authors, as do I, believe that this particular match was a match set in
motion long before there was ever an iron curtain,
a relationship that was formed by something much greater than mere Fate.

Hence the title, the Divine Plan…

But today’s post is not so much about that particular Divine match…
that post will come later…
Today’s post, rather, is actually a post about someone else whose life was
Divinely tapped to play a pivotal role in our collective human history.

A post inspired in part by something that I actually read in the book regarding
Pope John Paul II when he was but a young boy growing up in Poland and known
simply as Karol Wojtyla.
It’s what I read which actually lead me to today’s waxing and waning.

When the Pope, or rather young Karol, was 8 years old, his mother died after an
acute urinary tract infection, leaving an impressionable young boy to be raised
by his former military father.

Blessedly the elder Wojtyla was a very devout Christian man and was determined to raise his
young son under the direction of the Chruch.
And so he took a bereft young boy to one of the many shrines to the Madonna in order to pray
and to explain to Karol that the woman he saw in the shrine, that being Mary the mother
of Jesus, was to now be the mother to whom he must turn.

If you’ve ever read anything about Pope John Paul II then you know that he had a very
deep and very real relationship with the Virgin Mary—it is a relationship that reached back
to the void in the heart of an eight-year-old boy who had lost his earthly mother.
It was a relationship that would serve the Pope well throughout his entire life.

So it was this little tale about Mary that got me thinking.

Being raised as a Protestant, we don’t always fully grasp the relationship our Catholic kin
have with Mary.
In fact, we often look at the relationship sideways as if it were some sort of
obsessive oddity.

We scorn them for it.
We ridicule them over it.
And we’ve even accused them of idolatry over it.
And I think we have been unfair.

But this post is not about all of that, not today.

However, this post, on the other hand, is about my thoughts about the mother of Jesus,
the mother of our very own Lord and Savior.

I think history, theology, Christianity often gives Mary a bum rap.
And if it’s not a bum rap, it simply opts to gloss over her.

We tend to put her over in a corner someplace and move on.

And yes that is the role she readily accepted.

We think of her on or around Christmas eve as we recall her wandering the backroads of
a desert night, riding on the back of a donkey as she and her young husband look
for shelter as she is about to give birth…
and then, after Christmas, we don’t think much else about her, ever.

Many mothers accept such a role.
One of obscurity and the role of simply being put in a corner someplace as their child or
children shine in the limelight of whatever direction life should take them.

It’s kind of what mothers do.

And thus I write this post today in part because I have been, as I am currently,
a mother.
And in turn, I kind of get what it means being both mother and grandmother and what
that entails on an earthly level.

I get that it can be a deeply gut-wrenching, emotionally charged roller coaster
ride of life.
I get that it can be both physically, emotionally and spiritually exacting.

Just as it can literally break one’s heart.

Think of those women who have lost their children to illness, accidents, suicides or even
lost to war.

But for Mary, let’s imagine a woman who’s more than just a mother of a son,
but rather a woman who must also look to that son as an extension of her own God.

Who amongst us wouldn’t find that dichotomy utterly impossible to comprehend?

Your son being also your God…

This being the baby you carried for nine months.
Who you delivered through in pain and duress…
The baby who you had to flee town over.
The baby who kings came to visit.

Yet the same baby whose dirty diapers you changed.
Whose spit-up you cleaned up.
Whose hands you popped as they reached for danger…
The toddler whose hand you held when he took his first steps;
The child whose fever you prayed would go away; whose broken bones you willed to heal…
Whose broken heart, you wept over…

And then this same child grew to be an extension of the same God who had come to you
on a lonely night, telling you that He was taxing you with a seemingly impossible task.

Imagine the anguish you felt when, on a family trip, you thought this child of yours was
in the care of relatives…until you realized that no one really knew where he was.

This only child of yours was lost.

It had been three days when you realized he wasn’t with your family.
You had assumed and taken for granted and now he was gone.
How could you have let this happen?
You mentally begin to beat yourself to death.

You now realize he was left behind, alone, in an unforgiving town.
Who had him?
What had become of him?
Was he frightened?
Was he alone?
Was he hungry?
Was he dead?
Was he gone forever?

After frantically retracing your steps, desperately searching both day and night,
calling out his name, you miraculously finally find him.

He is at the Temple.

Your knee jerk reaction is to both cry out while taking him in your arms and then to simultaneously
yank him up by his ear, dragging him off back home all the while fussing as to the
sickening worry he has caused you.

And yet he meets you as if you’ve never met before.
You eerily sense an odd detachment.
He is subdued, calm, even passive…
An old soul now found in what should be a youthful, boisterous child.

Your brain struggles to make sense of what greets your eyes.
His now otherworldliness demeanor is puzzled by your own agitated level of angst.

He matter-of-factly tells you that he’d been in “his Father’s house,
about His father’s business. A simple matter of fact that should not have
you surprised or shocked.
It was as if he felt you should have known this all along.

You let go of him and stare while you try to wrap both your head and heart around what
you’re hearing.
Your anger and fear dissolve into resignation when you painfully recall the words
spoken to you years earlier…
“your heart, like his, will be pierced”…

In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, I was keenly stuck by one particularly
heartwrenching scene.

It was the scene of Jesus carrying the cross through the streets as
Mary ran alongside, pushing through the gathering crowd, watching from a distance
as tears filled her eyes while fear filled her heart.

Mother’s are prewired to feel the need, the urge, the necessity to race in when their
children are hurting.
Mothers desperately try, no matter the age of their children, to take them in their arms…
to caress their fevered brow, to kiss away their salty tears to rock their pain-filled body…

In the movie we see Mary watching as Jesus stumbles under the weight of the
cross–this after being brutally beaten.
She particularly gasps for air…willing her son to breathe in as well.
Her mind races back in time to when, as a young boy, Jesus falls and skins his knees.
He cries as the younger mother Mary, races to pick up her son and soothe his pain.

And just as suddenly, Mary is rudely jolted and catapulted mercilessly back to the current moment,
painfully realizing that she is now helpless to be there for her son.

Her heart is pierced.
As it will be pierced again as the nails are hammered into his flesh and he is hoisted
up in the air…left to die a slow and excruciating death of suffocation
while bones are pulled and dislocated.

And so yes, my thoughts today are on Mary.
A woman who taught us what it is to be a loving mother as well as an obedient woman…
obedient unto the piercing of a heart.

I would dare say that we still have so much to learn from her example.

Obedience seems to have very little in common with such things as abortions,
hashtags and feminism.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5:3 ESV

Prophets, St Matthias and the kneeling of the Church to Isalm


(“Saint Matthias” | Serra Brothers workshop)

Tuesday was the feast day of St Matthias–May 14th on the Gregorian calendar…
the calendar most of the world now follows.
However, our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters follow the Julian calendar
and so their commemoration of the feast day is August 9th.

But for our purposes today, for those of us who adhere to the Gregorian calendar,
we’ll just stick with May 14th.

St Matthias was the disciple that, following the death and Resurrection of Jesus,
and then that of his Ascension was voted on by Peter and the others to fill the void left
by the betrayal and subsequent suicide of Judas Iscariot.
(Acts 1:15-26)

It was the replacing of one who betrayed with one who remained faithful.
It was also a fulfilling of prophecy.

May 14th was also a day that I actually had time to catch the latest youtube episode of
Anglican Unscripted with US host Kevin Kallsen and our favorite rouge Anglican priest,
Bishop Gavin Ashenden.

Our dear friend actually started the segment by mentioning that their day’s discussion
was to be quite timely given the fact that it was the feast day of St Matthias.

After watching the episode, I understood the nod to the significance of St Matthias.
That being the replacing of betrayal with dedicated devotion.

A devotion that, in the face of severe trial and grave threat to life,
never wavered–one iota.

Those in the US, other than disheartened Episcopalians and Anglicans such as myself,
may not understand nor be interested in what a former British Anglican bishop has to say.
They may wonder why I continually reference the man.

So for those of you who wonder who in the heck I keep talking about, quoting or referencing,
in a Wikipedia and from his own bio nutshell, here is who is he is…
“Gavin Roy Pelham Ashenden (born 1954)
is a British Anglican clergyman.
He was a Chaplain to the Queen from 2008 until his resignation in 2017.
He was ordained in the Church of England, but left it in 2017.
That year was consecrated a missionary bishop by the Christian Episcopal Church,
a continuing Anglican jurisdiction outside of the Anglican Communion.”
On the Feast of St Michael and All Angels 2017,
the Archbishop of the Christian Episcopal Church announced that Dr. Ashenden
had been consecrated as a Missionary bishop to the UK and Europe.

But there is more to the man than a quick bio—

Bishop Ashenden knows music and its history, he has a law degree, he studied psychology
and theology, he is an accomplished and deeply published author, he has been a teacher,
preacher and even smuggler—smuggling Bibles into the communist Soviet Union.
He has served in small parishes and he has served a Queen.

He is keenly knowledgable about history be it the history of religions, governments or law.

In other words, he is a man who knows his stuff.

Yet because he knows “his” stuff, why should any of that matter to you, you might now be asking.

Well, because my friend, if you are one who considers themselves a Christian, as well as a member
of the Judaeo/ Christian democratic Western Civilization, Bishop Ashenden paints a grave yet
painfully honest picture of your very world…a truth that you need to familiarize yourself with
before you are caught like so many will be, blindsided.

Would I call Bishop Ashenden a prophet?

Perhaps.
Perhaps I would.

I do know that much of the modern-day world wonders why we have not heard from the
likes of such prophets like those from the days of old.

Those wizened voices who rose up most often from obscurity,
bending the ears of kings and warriors alike by foretelling things that were to be.
Those men who dreamed dreams and shared visions.

Not like a Nostradamus mind you, but more like a Jeremiah, Obadiah or an Isaiah,
or even a John The Baptizer.

I know I’ve been guilty of lamenting ‘where are the prophets?’
Where are those voices of Truth…?

But as I’ve pondered such a notion…it has dawned on me that the prophets are indeed
alive and well…they are found the world over and rest in the voices of men and women who
speak the Truth about Jesus Christ…His life, His teachings, His death, and His resurrection.

They are the ones who do not bend the Truth for convenience sake.
They are not the appeasers or the pleasers of an egocentric society or a materialistic world.

They are the men and women who literally die each and every day for their faith because their
trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ and in Christ alone.

They do not care about social norms, culturalisms, objectivism, convenience, or popularity.
They do not care what a world gone mad thinks of them.

They are not afraid.
For those who speak Truth are never afraid.

During Tuesday’s segment, host Kevin Kallsen made mention that he had seen on a
recent Yahoo News interview freshman Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib,
who happens to be a practicing Muslim, state that the notion of the Holocaust gives her
“a calming feeling.”

Are you kidding???
Holocaust and clam used within the same sentence???

And yet Congress, along with mainstream media, has basically all ignored such a statement.

Who in their right mind has any sort of sense of calm or peace whenever thinking of the Shoah,
in other words, the Holocaust???

I’ve looked into the back story a bit and it appears that some feel her words were taken
out of context…but, I don’t agree.

And so as the segment’s conversation continues,
the good Bishop actually takes a closer look at Islam and that of the Chruch’s odd embrace
of a religion that has always stated that living
in harmony with the followers of the Cross will never be tolerated.

Bishop Ashenden notes that Mohammed’s Islam has, for the better part of 60 years,
been taught by theologians to be one of the three legs of the Abrahamic religions…
with the other two legs being that of Christianity and Judaism.
However our dear friend staunchly, and without hesitation, states that that thought
is absolutely not the truth.

Mohammed borrowed the Biblical characters such as Noah, Mary, and even Jesus,
in order to give credence to “his” religion.

And he denied that Jesus ever rose from the dead.

The good Bishop states that “Mohammed is nothing more than a dictator who demands submission.”
whereas Jesus Christ offers himself as a sacrifice.

Islam is not a cousin of our faith but on the contrary…runs counter to Christianity.

The troubling thing, however, is that we are today witnessing a global Chruch who wants to
appear friendly, accepting and even embracing of Islam.
Going so far as to inviting Muslim neighbors into a Chruch’s sanctuary in order to celebrate
the ending of Eid by covering up the crosses in order not to offend.

Is not covering the cross on the altar of the Chruch a turning of one’s back to Christ and all
He stands for in our faith?
Is that not a betrayal of convenience?

To follow Jesus means that we are not to be ashamed nor disassociate ourselves–ever.

Bishop Ashenden reminds us that we know more about Hell from Jesus than from anyone else Biblically.
He shares that Jesus was and is very specific about consequences…
So much so that He tells us that to deny Him, results in the opposite of Paradise…
it results in Hell.

Yet so many of us will argue that we are a polite society.
We don’t want to rock the boat.
We want to accommodate and be neighborly and friendly.

But to what extent?
At what cost?

Do we opt to turn a blind eye, ignoring public servants who speak positively about
egregious atrocities such as the Holocaust?

Do we rewrite God’s word so that His words now fit better into our current day and times?

Do we cover up and hide the key representative symbol of our faith,
thinking that others of differing faiths may find it offensive?

Evil is alive and well…yet no one likes to admit such let alone think about such.

Bishop Ashenden tells us that Christianity, and only Christianity, offers a defense against Evil.
Jesus cleanses the human heart of such Evil.
Yet the fingerprints of Satan are very much visible within and across the global collective Church.

Truth is being turned upside down as there is not enough regard for the truth in our
social culture.

And yet we are reminded…
Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life…the only Way, the only Truth and the only Life…
(John 14:6)

Do not compromise.
Do not be ashamed.
Do not hide.
Do not deny.
Do not pretend.

when man reaches up towards Heaven…

“Spira, spera.”
(breathe, hope)
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The day we met,
Frozen I held my breath
Right from the start
I knew that I’d found a home for my heart…

I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more…

(Lyrics from Christina Perri A Thousand Years)


(Pieta by Niccola Coustou / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2019)

Notre Dame—Our Lady of Paris

850 years of–

Christianity
faith
religion
spirituality
mysticism
relics

history
ingenuity
construction
architecture
labor
sacrifice

art
sculpture
poetry
prose
music
colored glass

revolution
desecration
coronations
funerals
burials
weddings

bishops
nuns
confessions
monastics
saints
sinners

humanity
bloodshed
loss
wars
peace
victories

humankind
survival
life
death
breath
hope…

Yet for now, there are too many emotions to express regarding this collective sense
of sorrow, grief and loss.

Our frail and feeble earthly attempts to reach upward to God will each eventually perish
while fading to both ash and dust…

and yet…

Our Heavenly Father’s reach, downward to us his children, will remain for eternity…


(detail of Virgin and Child by Antoine Vassé / Norte Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(detail of the iron work on the main entrance doorway / Norte Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2019)


(detail of the central portal (central enterance) of Notre Dame Cathedral / The Last Judgment, constructed in 1220/
Julie Cook / 2019)


(vaulted ceiling of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(South Rose Window / 1260 / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook 2019)


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(detail of flying buttresses and gargoyles / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(detail of bell tower / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2011)


(south view of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / 2011)


(Wesrtern facade of the bell tower entrance Notre Dame Cathedral /Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

“He therefore turned to mankind only with regret.
His cathedral was enough for him.
It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least
did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquillity and benevolence.
The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him –
he resembled them too closely for that.
It was rather the rest of mankind that they jeered at.
The saints were his friends and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and
kept watch over him.
He would sometimes spend whole hours crouched before one of the statues
in solitary conversation with it.
If anyone came upon him then he would run away like a lover surprised during a serenade.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

Have it your way..

“I’m part good,
I’m part bad,
But,
I’m redeemed”

Johnny Cash


(Burger King Whopper)

I made this confession sadly before but once again, I must confess that I’ve not had
the time that I have wanted, in these past many months to spend reading,
studying and sharing the most insightful thoughts and observations of two of my favorite
across the pond Chrisitan clerics…
those being the former Church of England Bishop Gavin Ashenden and Free Chruch
Presbyterian minister David Robertson.

Both of these men, to me, speak what I call the Gospel Truth.
No mincing the facts nor the words.
I liken it to a small spin on the Popeye mantra…
rather than “I am what I am and that’s all that I am”
they speak in terms of “It is what it is and that’s all that it is”

As in God said it…therefore it is.

They look at this world of ours through the lens of The Gospel.
They look at a post-Chrisitan, progressive left culture that is slowly dying unto
itself, as it is totally unaware of its own demise, while they each continue proclaiming
the saving Grace of Christ…

This as each man is met with the hate-filled rhetoric, the threats of decreased income,
the threats to the detriment to their own safety as well as threats against their
own well being…threats made by those within our oh so post Christian,
progressively liberal culture…
It is a very vocal form of public shaming…
As if such will actually shut up either man and his individual proclamation
of Christ risen.

I actually had some time yesterday morning to thankfully read David’s latest offering,
“Pray for the Nation – Why Should We Be Concerned About The Sins Of The Nation?”

(full link here: https://theweeflea.com/2018/11/27/pray-for-the-nation-why-should-we-be-concerned-about-the-sins-of-the-nation/ )

With the upcoming of St. Andrew’s Day…a day that the Chrisitan Chruch in Scotland remembers
her patron saint and in turn prays for the nation as a whole,
David offers a very telling reflection of life not only in Scotland or within the UK
but rather of our collective life in general in our own Western Civilization.

(oh and by the way, in case you were curious, it is Mary herself, the mother of Christ,
who holds the role of patron saint over The United States of America…
with her feast day being December 8th.
Seems that we most certainly need a nurturing and compassionate mother to care for our
oh so selfish and lost ways…but I digress)

David’s reflection is accompanied by a nod to the writings of John Owen…
a nod he’s shared before.
Owen being a 17th century English Nonconformist church leader,
academic administrator at the University of Oxford and a one-time member of the British Parliment,
was also a prolific writer, sharing his own observations for a wanton style of living that was
just as prevalent in his day as it is ours.

Despite the centuries time difference between Owen’s mid-1600’s and our own early 21st century,
Owen speaks of two distinct ills of society that are both alarming and destructive…
ills that are not only still prevalent but are rather rabidly rampant today.
That being irreligion, or what we define as atheism, and secondly the immorality of a nation.

So what say you?

I say those are the ills that have beset man and his various societies since the dawn of time.
Generation before generation has all bemoaned the same illness.
It is, in fact, a generational ailment.
That being disbelief and an arrogant turning of the back to the Sovereignty of God.

Yet it is vitally important that the clarion call is still to be sounded…
rung loudly for each generation to come as Hope must never be forgotten.

We continue to pray that the scales will fall from the eyes of the foolish and arrogant.

Here is what David had to say…

“Today I want to take a look at the deeper cause of this confusion –
of which Transmania is only a small part.
It is tied in with Romans 1.
The greatest punishment that God could ever inflict upon us is to leave us to what I call
the Burger King version of society ‘have it your way’.
You could call it the Sinatra version (I did it my way),
or the Fleetwood Mac (Go Your Own Way).
But whatever you call it – the assertion of human autonomy and sovereignty is disastrous.
God as man recreates.
Man as God destroys.
John Owen in his ‘Sermons to the Nation’ (Works vol 8) and
‘Sermons to the Church’ (vol 9) is insightful and helpful on this.

Owen asks the question:
“What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live?” (Discourse III, vol. 9 p.365)

Irreligion itself can be divided into atheism and false worship.
Atheism is found in the heart (it is not primarily a matter of the mind or intelligence).
Owen identifies four signs of atheism in the nation:

“By horrid, cursed, blasphemous swearing; which is a contempt of the name of God.
And when did it ever abound more in this nation?”.
The answer is today!
I cannot switch on the TV, walk down the street or speak in schools/universities without
hearing coarse, ugly and blasphemous language.

By reproaching of the Spirit of God.

By scoffing at all holy things; as at the Scriptures –
at everything that carries a reverence and fear of God;
so that a man who dares profess a fear of God in what he does, makes himself a scorn.

Contempt of all God’s providential warnings is another proof of atheism.
Never had a nation more warnings from God’s providence, nor ever were they more despised.
Owen speaks of a 17th Century England which is characterised by coarse language,
mockery of the Gospel and a refusal to listen to the warnings of God.
Sounds familiar?

Owen then goes on to speak of immorality in the nation:
“It would be an endless thing, to go over the sins that reign among us:
oppression, blood, uncleanness, sensuality, drunkenness –
all to the height, raging and reigning in the nation”.
But what really hit home to me was his description of the ‘security’ within the nation.

Occasionally there is a wake up call with some disaster and people wake as from a slumber
but soon close their eyes and go back to sleep again.
That is true in the nation – but then Owen asks why Christians should care about the sins of others.

The answer comes from Scripture – Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
for your law is not obeyed. (Psalm 119:136).
Not only do we need to be free from these ‘abominations’ we need to be those who mourn for
them in our nation and communities.

“The name of God is blasphemed, the Spirit of God reproached,
a flood of iniquity spreads itself over the nation,
the land of our birth, over the inheritance of Christ,
over a nation professing the reformed religion;
all things go backward – every thing declines.

Indeed, brothers, if you will not, I do acknowledge here before you, and to my own shame,
I have great guilt upon me in this matter,
that I have not been sensible of the abominations of the nation,
so as to mourn for them and be humbled for them, as I ought to have been.
And you will do well to search your hearts, and consider how it is with you; –
whether indeed you have been affected with these things;
or whether you have not thought all is well,
while all has been well with yourselves and families, and,
it may be, with the church, that may have no trouble upon that account.”

Are we not too secure in our middle class churches, with our comfortable lives?
Have we become so comfortable in the midst of sin that we do not see it with the eyes of God?
Do we weep for the blood being shed (the slaughter of the unborn)?
the damage being done to our children in the name of ideology?
the destruction of the family?
the crass materialism and the gap between rich and poor?
the exploitation of the weak by the powerful?
the replacement of God by the State?
the destructiveness of vice and addictions?
the decline of education?
the culture of death? false religion?
misogyny?
racism?
injustice?
cruelty?
mockery and abuse of our precious Lord Jesus?

It’s a dangerous prayer but perhaps all Christians should pray that the Lord would open our eyes,
minds and hearts that we would see, understand and feel his grief….

Amen!

the Holy Spirit is on the move…

“Often, actually very often, God allows his greatest servants,
those who are far advanced in grace,
to make the most humiliating mistakes.
This humbles them in their own eyes and in the eyes of their fellow men.”

St. Louis de Montfort


(detail from an altar’s funerary tomb within the Chruch of Santa Maria sopra Minerva/
Rome, Itlay / Julie Cook / 2018)

On a warm October afternoon as my husband was back in the hotel taking a much
needed and long awaited nap—
I opted to step out into the streets of the madness which is synonymous
with the Eternal city of Roma…
Wandering with a purpose while drinking in both past and present.

Now I will say that ever since I was a wee child,
napping was just something that was never ever on my radar.
Mother would ‘put me down’ for my nap, gently closing the door, as I’d wail in protest…
Once I realized I was pretty much stuck, I would then defiantly stand up on the bed with
little elbows resting on a windowsill as I’d stare out wondering about the world outside.

What was I missing?
I wasn’t sleepy.
Why waste this precious time offered for living by sleeping??

And before all of you nap advocates out there begin to read me the riot act over the
glorious benefits of naps…
with those first protestors being my cats and my husband…
I will simply plead my defense to my odd wiring…
I am simply not a napper.

So on this early October afternoon, I chose not to nap but rather to explore, meandering
the overtly crowded streets near the frenetic sea of tourists milling in and around
the Pantheon in Rome.
And as usual, I found myself drifting off course.
I cut down a side street that gave way to a quieter and much smaller piazza.
The Piazza della Minerva.

Seeking peace amongst the madness.

I quickly realized I was standing outside of the Dominican Chruch of
Santa Maria sopra Minerva, or rather known to English speakers as
Saint Mary above Minerva—
The name is due to the fact that a Christian Chruch was built over an early temple
dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, or rather the Latinized version being
that of Minerva.

Nothing gives me a greater sense of peace when I’m visiting a large frantic historic city
then finding a hidden, off the radar, church…be it big or small…

Ode to the sacred that beckons me to come in…
Coming in to marvel,
to rest,
to wonder
to ponder,
to think,
to pray…

I am drawn in to such places like an iron ball is drawn to a magnet.
With my eyes open wide, usually adjusting to the dim flickering candlelight,
as my head tilts upward, all the while I try to find my balance as I take in the size
and scope of what it is I’ve been drawn in to.

I allow myself to bask in the utter majesty or rest in the pure simplicity of our
Christian roots.

Such was the case in this ancient gothic church constructed in 1320.

I’ll share more about this visit later as there is a beautiful statue of the risen Christ,
flanking the main altar, carved by Michelangelo…along with the beautiful frescoed altar
paintings by Filippino Lippi
(you remember I was an art teacher right??)

I reverently wandered in this cavernous church while the footsteps of both myself
and those who had also come inside..those who were both curious as well as seeking,
echoed throughout the massive sanctuary.

I stopped before each niche and each chapel, studying and soaking in what I saw.
Soaking in the stories, the emotions, the glory, and even the sorrow offered
to those who take the time to look, read, ponder and imagine.

When suddenly I found myself gazing upon what
appeared to be a large collection of various polished white marble statues.

It was actually more like one particular statue that was just one piece of a much larger
carved funerary tomb which held my gaze steadfast.

There were several statues of women and angels.
Large and imposing, they made me feel very small…both physically as well as metaphorically.

One figure, that of a woman who I initially assumed to be Mary, turned her body away from
the viewers, as well as from her fellow statues.

She was covering her face, turning her body, in what appeared to be a
state of anguish or perhaps even shame…
All the while, a small cherub, also known as putti, looked directly at her in a most knowing
and penetrating fashion.

What did he know about this woman?
What had happened?

Yet rather than being a statute of Mary, this woman was actually a portrayal of Justice…
And rather than being a typical blindfolded image of a woman, as Justice is usually depicted,
this statue, designed by Bernini, was portrayed as a woman who seemed consumed by grief.

There were suddenly a thousand thoughts racing through my mind as I gazed up at this somewhat
painfilled moment of time.
A moment that should have otherwise been private, was here on display for all to see.

No hiding her grief.
No mourning and crying privately.
The putti knew…and now I knew.

But what did I know?

I felt compelled to offer, albeit in some distant fashion, comfort.
I could feel the weight of her pain.
But why?
I had no idea.

Fast forwarding to yesterday morning, I was reading my morning devotions when I came to
the following excerpt from Father Jacques Philippe.
I had a similar reaction to his words as I did to that statue…
there was a sense of the deep weight of both pain and understanding.

Like I say, we will come back to take a deeper and wider look into the beauty and mystery
of Santa Maria sopra Minerva but for now…
The Holy Spirit is busy…
this much I do know…

“When uncertain about God’s will, it is very important that we tell ourselves:
‘Even if there are aspects of God’s will that escape me,
there are always others that I know for sure and can invest in without any risk,
knowing that this investment always pays dividends.’
These certainties include fulfilling the duties of our state in life and practicing
the essential points of every Christian vocation.
There is a defect here that needs to be recognized and avoided:
finding ourselves in darkness about God’s will on an important question . . .
we spend so much time searching and doubting or getting discouraged,
that we neglect things that are God’s will for us every day,
like being faithful to prayer, maintaining trust in God, loving the people around us here and now.
Lacking answers about the future,
we should prepare to receive them by living today to the full.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 55
An Excerpt From
Interior Freedom

Yes and No

Just as Eve brought death into the world through her fall,
and through her succumbing to Satan,
so too Mary becomes the new Eve who brings life into the world through her ‘yes’ to God.
This imagery of Mary as the new Eve goes all the way back to the Old Testament.
She is the new woman, who will overcome the serpent through her ‘yes’ to God and through
the coming of her Son, the Messiah.

Dr. Michael Barber
from What Every Catholic Needs to Know About Mary


(image of Mary from The Passion of the Christ looking upon the foot of her dead son)

My aim today is not to debate the importance or lack of importance of Mary in our
collective faiths.
Be that in the Catholic Faith or be that that within the Protestant faiths…

Bless Mary…for she has become such a pivotal, and dare I say, a contentious image within the
collective Christian Chruch.

I for one find that to be a truly sad factor for us all of the collective Christian faith
as we have allowed Mary’s significance or insignificance to become divisive.

Yet that topic is not my focus today.

Not being Catholic, I was not raised with a strong sense of a Marian devotion.
Yet I do not hold that against my Catholic kinsmen.
Mary is important to our Catholic kin, just as she is important to all of us of the Fatih
for she bore willingly a most heavy burden…a burden she bore willingly for all of us.

She does not surpass the importance of her Son.
Yet that is often lost in the accusations and fussing.
No Catholic puts the mother above her Son
but her role as a universal mother does not go ignored.

Yet all of that is neither here nor there today.

Yesterday morning I read the quote I’ve added above by Dr. Barber regarding both Mary and Eve.
Two very pivotal women within the Christian Fatih.

Eve is blamed for all of our current state of affairs while Mary is the quintessential image
of willingness, sacrifice, and selflessness.

Darkness and shame versus selfless light.

After reading the quote and knowing I wanted to use it in a post, I actually noticed that
several folks had viewed a previous post that I had offered on Christmas Eve…
it was a post based on a homily offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden.

And as I don’t believe in coincidence but rather the prompting of the Spirit, I will
again offer that same post here…as it seems to be calling out…

The post is titled “Eve’s no verses Mary’s yes…”

“i imagine that yes is the only living thing.”
E.E. Cummings


(Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden / Masaccio / 1425 / Florence )


(Bicci di Lorenzo / 1433-1434 / The Annunciation panels / private collection)

Please enjoy the Christmas Eve Homily offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden.
Bishop Ashenden raises an interesting observation…

That in Eve’s having said “no” to God—in her refusal to His obedience,
man in turn then fell victim to the addiction to sin and disobedience.

Mary then counters that sinfulness no by offering her simple “yes”….

And in Mary’s yes…she brings us all to God’s saving Grace.
Of which brings to all of humankind, through the birth of her son Yeshua,
the freedom from this never-ending cycle of disobedient addiction…

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/eves-no-verses-marys-yes/

Death and taxes…

“I earnestly admonish you, therefore, my brothers,
to look after your spiritual well-being
with judicious concern.
Death is certain; life is short and vanishes like smoke.
Fix your minds, then, on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Inflamed with love for us, he came down from heaven to redeem us.
For our sake he endured every torment of body and soul and shrank from no bodily pain.
He himself gave us an example of perfect patience and love.
We, then, are to be patient in adversity.”

St. Francis of Paola

Death and taxes…
nothing is certain in life but those two unpleasantries.

April 15th—the dreaded day of taxes.
(or actually the 17th due to the 15th falling on a weekend)

A day that accountants have longed for while regular citizens have dreaded.
To pay or to be refunded, that is the question…

Yet taxes are nothing new.

We might recall that it was while traveling to Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home,
Mary gave birth to Jesus.
It was a requirement of Roman law that all citizens take part in the counting for the census
in order to meet the tax requirements…
thus the reason why this young couple, with a very pregnant Mary,
was out and about traveling at a rather critical time.

And so history teaches us that taxes are nothing new…
nor is death…
for death is as old as life itself…
As they actually go hand in hand…

Death and taxes—the two givens in life.

St Francis of Paola—
the humble 15th-century monk who founded the equally humble order
of Minim Friars, reminds us, in this morning’s quote, that death is indeed certain.

Yet the notion of death being inevitable… is really nothing more than a given.
If you’ve been born, you will inevitably die.
That’s just how that works.

Yet most of us don’t like being reminded of such.
Just like we don’t like being reminded about taxes,
forms, payments and the deadline for submitting such.

Our humble monk also reminds us of something else equally as important…
that life, as fleeting as it is…. is simply like vanishing smoke.

And just like taxes and death, none of us like to think about fleeting…
those unpleasant things such as taxes, death coupled with our fleeting lives.

However, our friend reassures us that because our time is just that, vanishing as the smoke…
and death is, for better or worse, inevitable…
it is to be our task to fix our sights, our minds and even
our passions upon Jesus and on Jesus alone…
because it is only in Jesus that things such as death and taxes,
and that of pain, sorrow, and suffering…
those earthly fleeting instances which will vanish as the smoke,
are nothing compared to a life with Jesus—of which is truly everlasting…

They seldom reflect on the days of their life,
because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:20

my eyes have seen Your salvation…


(The Scene of Christ in the Temple by Fra Bartolommeo / 1516 / Kunsthistorisches Museum
/ Vienna, Austria)

“My eyes have seen Your salvation…”
your revelation, your glory, your grace, you name it, the eyes have now beheld it…”
So says Simeon in the Temple on the day Mary and Joseph have taken their young son,
as all good Jewish couples do at the time, for his presentation,
for the ceremony of Purification.
Luke 2:30

The honoring of the Law and of God’s Word.

I would suspect most Christians are rather unfamiliar with what this day of Presentation
was/is actually all about—
We just know it is known as the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord
at the Temple, or more commonly known as Candlemas.

According to an old Jewish custom, a woman who gives birth to a child will be
unclean and homebound for a certain number of days after the birth.
The days for this custom differ for the birth of a boy and a birth of a girl.
If a boy child is born, the woman is unclean for seven days and then she remains
at home for an additional thirty-three days for a total of 40 days.
If a girl child is born, the woman is unclean for 14 days and then she remains
at home for an additional sixty-six days for a total of 80 days.
During these time periods, the woman touches nothing holy.

February 2nd is exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus Christ and it is on
this day that Mother Mary along with Joseph brought forth their newborn son,
Jesus, to the Temple. Mother Mary was cleansed on this day.
Jesus was presented to the Lord in the Temple on this day.

(Holidays Calendar)

Imagine a woman today having given birth and remaining at home, being considered
“unclean” despite having bathed or showered and being cleaned up first at the Hospital
then later at home…
Only to then be isolated for upwards of 80 days…

That would be almost 12 weeks.
Most maternity leave here in the US is between 6 to 8 weeks, then it’s back to work.

During maternity leave, the majority of women certainly don’t remain isolated—
as getting up, moving and going seems foremost and paramount to both
healing and simply living life in these modern days.

There’s a home to manage, a child, perhaps even more than one, that all need tending to…
there are groceries to buy, doctors to visit, workouts to attend, meals and bottles
to prepare and strollers to push…
who has time for “isolation” let alone “The Law”… and what in the world is this
about not touching things “holy”??

So as we see, there was a great deal more to this notion of Presentation than meets
the eye. And in Simeon’s words, we hear not only proclamation but we hear of a peace—
a blessed peace full of both joy and contentment.

During this particular visit to the Temple for this observed requirement of both Jewish
custom and law, Joseph and Mary encounter two individuals who, to the average observer,
would be nondescript–meaning they’d really not have been noticed nor
considered of much consequence.
They were more or less, figures in the shadows.

Both Simeon and Anna were old.

They ‘hung out’ at the Temple spending their time in constant prayer.
By society’s standards, they served no real practical purpose.
Their usefulness having long come and gone…and yet here they are at the Temple
giving themselves over to constant prayer and communion with God–
I wonder who has the better notion of service, practicalness, and usefulness…

Society or Simeon and Anna?

Today we hear, Bishop Ashenden pointing out in his homily regarding the
Feast Day of the Presentation, that The Law of the day was being upheld in
Mary and Joseph’s bringing Jesus to the Temple for The Presentation—
just as we see the Holy Spirit at work in and through both Simeon and Anna.

We also see, in the then infant Jesus…that He was then, just as he always is
now, the one who is expressing and exposing what is in the heart of the human spirit.

Bishop Ashenden reminds us of the words of the Russian saint and mystic St Seraphim…
“The most important thing is to acquire the Holy Spirit”

Acquiring the Spirit of God is the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer,
fasting, almsgiving and other good works done for Christ’s sake are merely means
for acquiring the Spirit of God.”

“What do you mean by acquiring?” I asked St. Seraphim. “Somehow I don’t understand that.”

“Acquiring is the same as obtaining,” he replied.
“Do you understand, what acquiring money means?
Acquiring the Spirit of God is exactly the same.
You know very well enough what it means to acquire in a worldly sense, your Godliness.
The aim of ordinary worldly people is to acquire or make money;
and for the nobility, it is in addition to receive honors,
distinctions and other rewards for their services to the government.
The acquisition of God’s Spirit is also capital, but grace-giving and eternal,
and it is obtained in very similar ways,
almost the same ways as monetary, social and temporal capital.

“God the Word, the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ,
compares our life with the market, and the work of our life on earth He calls trading.
He says to us all:
“Trade till I come” (Lk. 19:13),
“buying up every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
In other words, make the most of your time getting heavenly blessings through earthly goods.
Earthly goods are good works done for Christ’s sake that confer the grace of the All-Holy Spirit,
on us.”…..
“At last the Holy Spirit foretold to St. Simeon, who was then in his 65th year,
the mystery of the virginal conception and birth of Christ from the most pure
Ever-Virgin Mary.
Afterwards, having lived by the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God for three
hundred years, in the 365th year of his life, he said openly in the
temple of the Lord that he knew for certain
through the gift of the Holy Spirit that this was that very Christ,
the Savior of the world, Whose supernatural conception, and birth from
the Holy Spirit had been foretold to him by an Angel three hundred years previously.

And there was also St. Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel,
who from her widowhood had served the Lord God in the temple of God for eighty years,
and who was known to be a righteous widow, a chaste servant of God,
from the special gifts of grace which she had received.
She too announced that He was actually the Messiah Who had been promised to the world,
the true Christ, God and Man, the King of Israel,
Who had come to save Adam and mankind.

(excerpt from Saint Seraphim of Sarov /On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit)

And so here in the Temple, we don’t have to wait until Pentecost to see the presence and
work of the Holy Spirit as we hear His words through the words, just as we see
His work through the actions, of both Simeon and Anna—
two individuals who had acquired the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

Just as we later see that John the Baptist knew, by the discernment of the Spirit,
that Jesus was God’s own son.
And as we see, the Spirit has always been, despite not having been officially introduced…
not as He was at Pentecost…He has dwealt among us…the Holy Signpost pointing
always back to God the Father and Christ the Son…

Bishop Ashenden poignantly explains that “God slips into the skin of humanity as through
Jesus and He comes to us just as He comes to us by way of the Holy Spirit as He continues
guiding us through our days…”

And in this age of power struggles, gender identification and the rise of all
things feminist, it is revealed to the faithful that the real power comes
from our having the Holy Spirit.

And thus that is to be our quest, our life’s goal—to seek out the Holy Spirit.
Because when we possess the Spirit within—
it is the Spirit who will lead and guide us through this journey of life.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:13